Are IT band straps just snake oil?
January 15, 2008 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Are those IT band straps for running worth a damn?

So, following bad knee pain after finishing my first marathon last month, I went to a physical medicine and rehab specialist, and the doc informs me that I have two guitar strings running down the outside of each leg. My IT bands, are, in her words, "the worst I've seen in a long time."

So I'm off the street and in the pool + aggressive physical therapy for a month or so. My question is this: I want to get back on the road when this is over doing everything I can to prevent this from flaring up again. I've read other AskMe threads on stretching and maintenance you can do to be good to your IT bands (good info, thanks), but I'm wondering about those straps some runners wear on their legs to keep IT band problems at bay.

Does anyone know/have any evidence that the effectiveness of these things is beyond placebo? Or is this just the runner's version of copper bracelets and magnetic necklaces? How comfortable are they at distance?
posted by middleclasstool to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are you talking about the ones that go around the knee, right below the knee cap, like this one?

They're primarily for patellofemoral pain, though I suppose they might help with ITB induced knee pain as well. I've seen plenty of runners using them and talked to a few that said they help. Figuring out what works for you can be hard, since there are so many muscle groups involved and so many adjustments to be made (stride, shoes, insoles, taping, bands, etc).

I'd talk to your PT about it and see if they think it would be beneficial. Lots of ITB stretching will be the real key, of course. Good luck!
posted by Pantengliopoli at 11:39 AM on January 15, 2008

Hey, I actually tore my IT band a couple years ago and had to get it fixed after a dr. had left a suture around it repairing my miniscus/LCL (don't recommend that at all)

I do use the IT band straps whenever I go running on pavement or the treadmill and feel like they do make a difference in just stabilization over a long distance. For me, I could probably run a couple miles comfortably without them, but never try not wearing them for long distances. It is sore after a long jog still, but I'm training for a marathon and you'll have that. (Side note: not so effective for me when hiking or doing hills or stairs... but everyone is different)

I'd recommend getting a pair. Even if it is a placebo effect of making you feel like you have more support, they are relatively cheap and if they don't work for you, then it shouldn't be too bad.
Drawback: I hate wearing braces, but they are no where near as uncomfortable as wearing a knee brace and they don't bother me much.

Make sure to keep up with your PT and don't let it get too tight. Good luck!
posted by CAnneDC at 11:42 AM on January 15, 2008

I was talking about the one that goes above the knee. I do wear the one that was linked above for Osgood Schlatters. (I know, I know, and I DO look ridiculous when running)
posted by CAnneDC at 11:45 AM on January 15, 2008

Do you have the big foam roller at home? I would recommend that more than anything else - it really helped with my IT band problems.
posted by true at 11:59 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I'd ask my doctor or therapist whether or not these things were good for me, rather than a bunch of strangers on the internet.
posted by toomuchpete at 12:06 PM on January 15, 2008

If it were me, I'd be doing all the research I could on making my knee stop hurting and soliciting opinions from anyone who might have an idea, while I waited for my next PT appointment.

CAnneDC, I've never seen that band style before. Is it just neoprene, or does it have a "rib" that settles over the ITB?
posted by Pantengliopoli at 12:09 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, it does have about a half inch thick rib that you place directly over the IT Band (so maybe an inch long) and the rest is neoprene. It's lightweight and comfortable and really has made a difference for me. I'm pretty sure that I linked to the one I had, but can't be sure from the internet... but they do have them at most sports, running, or athletic brace stores that you can try on and test out.
posted by CAnneDC at 12:20 PM on January 15, 2008

I heart my IT band strap! You'll pry it away from my cold dead knee.

I don't always use it, but I do use it for long distance work (over 15-18 miles) or if I feel my hip is a bit tweaked. The origin of the IT band is up on the hip, so that's the key point for me.

That said, all braces need to be fitted by doctor or medical professional. My strap doesn't work unless I get the placement correct. Your doc's really the person to ask about the research that supports using the strap for your particular pain. They can also give you the standard -braces are not an excuse to overdo - speech.
posted by 26.2 at 12:22 PM on January 15, 2008

Response by poster: toomuchpete, I hear you, and I'm absolutely going to talk to my therapist about them, but until I can get in for an appointment, I thought I'd ask opinions -- not quite the same thing as "help me diagnose my symptoms," as I actually have been to see a specialist and will be conduction ongoing therapy. Plus the runners who actually use these things can give me insight as to what it's actually like running with them strapped around your thighs.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:56 PM on January 15, 2008

Response by poster: Argh conducting, by which I mean not conducting so much as undergoing, goddamn you, you fickle brain.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:57 PM on January 15, 2008

I had IT band issues and a strap didn't really help. My problem was caused by uneven hips. My right hip was elevated higher than my left, which really stretched the crap out of my right IT band and caused pain when running.

I went to a physical therapist and he showed me some stretches I could do to level out my hips and I haven't had IT band trouble ever since. I'd really suggest finding out WHY your IT band hurts and fixing the root of the problem rather than just trying to fix the symptoms of the problem.
posted by PFL at 1:06 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

In terms of feel - it's very unobtrusive. It doesn't rub or slip around. If you're a super sweaty runner, you might be able to soak it on a long run. If the velcro gets worn, then it's annoying. Other than that, I don't notice it.
posted by 26.2 at 1:09 PM on January 15, 2008

i too believe they work very well. i got ITBS maybe 5 years ago while increasing my running mileage. i did the sports medicine doctor stuff, physical therapy, stretching, foam roller and all of that. but i think the cho-pat strap helped a lot.
the other stuff is important too, stretching and foam rolling for sure. they helped me get up to marathon distance in about a year.
i still wear it for longer (over 6 mile) runs but i think if i was rolling enough i would not have to.
posted by annoyance at 1:31 PM on January 15, 2008

My wife has used one and it seems to be helpful. I had to get two PT straps when training over the fall, because of knee pain. In both cases though, taking some time off and proper stretching seems to have helped; my wife and I both found out that we were not really wearing the correct shoes, either (hers were not right for her foot type, and my shoes were right but were too wide for my narrow feet).

But yeah, ask a physical therapist. The bands can help, but you're addressing a symptom, not the problem. They can be great for stopping you from re-injuring yourself, but remember to listen to your body. If it hurts, something is wrong, so get it checked out.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:37 PM on January 15, 2008

My running partner has bad IT problems and he swears by the Cho-Pat strips. I tend to be more skeptical but his experience is that he can run longer, with less pain, by wearing them...provided they are positioned correctly and are not too loose/tight.

Re: the advice to get a foam roller: I have a roller, and I recently got a marathon stick. Holy moses, it's the best/most excruciating tool I've ever bought! It ferrets out knots and problem spots I didn't even know I had. It's particularly good at quads/IT band/calves (I find my roller is still best at working the hammies). I'd recommend a roller or stick in addition to your stretching program.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 5:58 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to follow up, I'm well into PT now and may be cleared to start running (short) distances starting as early as Monday. Those who recommended the foam roller, well...goddamn that thing hurts. My therapist was cool enough to give me one to take home, and using it feels like that sadist is doing my thrice-a-week deep tissue massage on those sore spots all over again. Which, I suppose, is the point.

Bella, I've seen those marathon sticks at the health expos, and I have a feeling I'll be buying one at my next race.

As to the straps, my PT had never heard of them, only the below-the-knee ones Pantengliopoli described above. His interest was piqued, and he's looking into it, but he seems to think that adequate stretching and rolling will be sufficient to fix the problem.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:04 PM on January 31, 2008

Response by poster: Final follow-up: the PT's pronouncement today was essentially "those straps would help by relieving some of the pressure from the IT band on the knee." He wasn't exactly enthusiastic about them, but was far from willing to write them off as strictly placebo, calling them "basically a bit of both," neither miracle cure nor snake oil. Again, he stressed stretching and rolling to do the real work.

Also, I ran a mile today. My cardio endurance sucks now.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:27 PM on February 4, 2008

thanks for the updates! my ITBFS has gotten much better too. i still use a strap on my left knee but am back up to 10 mile runs, increasing mileage slowly again. good luck!
posted by annoyance at 1:08 PM on February 7, 2008

Yeah! Good to hear you are both on the mend.

BTW even though I love my IT strap, I agree with your PT. The stretching and the rolling are essential. However, when I run on an uneven surface and my knee decides to act up in the middle of the workout that band helps.

Keep stretching and rolling on the torture roller.
posted by 26.2 at 3:26 PM on February 7, 2008

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